Gold Phoenix, Philip D’Amato earn Eddie Read Stakes victory

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Gold Phoenix

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DEL MAR — Philip D’Amato is a heavy hitter when it comes to turf racing and the 47-year-old trainer hit a grand slam Sunday at Del Mar, sending out the top four finishers in the $250,000 Grade II Eddie Read Stakes.

Even veteran observers in the press box couldn’t remember if such a feat had ever been accomplished on the Southern California circuit. Saddling the top three finishers is tough enough, but to score a quadruple is extraordinary.

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“I think I’ve come in 1-2-3, but I don’t ever recall 1-2-3-4,” D’Amato said in the winner’s circle after jockey Hector Berrios rode 9-2 shot Gold Phoenix to the victory. “I love this race. The Eddie Read has been very good to me over the years. I’ve won it a few times with some really nice horses and it’s just special to win it again.”

The victory was D’Amato’s fourth in the Eddie Read following wins with Midnight Storm (2016), Hunt (2017) and Bowie’s Hero (2019). His third stakes victory of the meet gave him 47 for his career at Del Mar, good for an eighth-place tie all-time with Peter Miller.

D’Amato said he never dreamed he’d sweep the top four spots.

“I was hoping they’d all run well, be up there, but I did not envision the superfecta,” he said.

Gold Phoenix, fifth early on in the nine-horse field and second when they turned for home, won for the fifth time in 14 starts and padded his career bankroll to $837,757 with the winner’s check of $150,000.

A 5-year-old Irish-bred son of Belardo, Gold Phoenix beat Balnikhov by three-quarters of a length. Pacesetter Masteroffoxhounds hung around for third, a half length behind the runner-up and a length in front of 9-5 favorite Count Again.

Final time for the 1 1/8 miles on the turf was 1:48.62.

Gold Phoenix, who won the Grade I Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita on March 4 but came up short in the Grade II Charlie Whittingham and Grade I Shoemaker Mile, won for the second time in three starts at Del Mar after winning last summer’s Del Mar Handicap with Flavien Prat aboard.

Berrios, who’s won seven stakes at Del Mar, gave the winner an excellent ride, prompting D’Amato to lavish praise on the 36-year-old native of Chile.

“He’s just a guy that horses run for him,” he said. “Very soft hands and he puts horses in the right spot. If they’re the best horse, they’re going to win. Between placing them right and just getting along with them and getting the most out of them, I think that’s why he’s so successful right now.”

Berrios and Juan Hernandez won three races on the 11-race program, putting them in a tie atop the rider standings with 11 victories.Said Berrios: “I took my time. I knew I had a lot of horse. As it turned out, I got the perfect trip. The pace was slow, I could tell, but that was OK. I waited and I waited then I asked. And when I did, boom! He was a runner.”

D’Amato said if Gold Phoenix comes out of the race in good shape, he’ll be looking for a repeat victory in the Del Mar Handicap on Sept. 2.

“I think that’s a perfect spot for him going into it this year,” he said. “He loves this course and now he has confidence under him. That will definitely be the spot we point to.”

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